News coverage of CLB's report on Chinese workers in Japan

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following articles. Copyright remains with the original publisher.

Kyodo News: Chinese workers 'exploited' in Japan
DPA: Migrant Chinese workers badly exploited in Japan, report says
AFP:Labour group says China workers exploited in Japan
Global Post: Bad Training
In These Times: Chinese in Japan Caught in Tide of Exploited Labor

Kyodo News. 15 June 2011
HONG KONG — Chinese workers are exploited when they work in developed countries such as Japan despite comprehensive labor export regulations, the China Labour Bulletin says.

The Hong Kong-based labor rights watchdog said the abundant supply of cheap Chinese labor and Japan employers’ demand for them to do jobs Japanese workers are reluctant to do, plus failed enforcement of labor laws have made possible workers’ rights violation.

‘‘The Chinese labor laws are very good on paper, the problem is they are not enforced on the ground,’’ group communication director Geoffrey Crothall was quoted as saying. ‘‘A lot of local governments are more interested in boosting their own local economy and workers’ rights are pretty low on the agenda.’‘

Chinese government statistics quoted in the report showed that Japan has been the largest international market for Chinese labor by value, with two-thirds of around 200,000 foreign workers in Japan coming from China in 2008.

Under China’s labor export policies, placement companies are set up to recruit and supposedly provide training to the workers before sending them off to work overseas.

Crothall said in reality no technical training was given by the placement companies but only sessions held to lay down restrictions at work, making sure the workers are ‘‘docile, hardworking and compliant,’’ according to five former employees whom the group is helping with litigation against the Japanese employers and agents.

The workers said they were asked to pay about 20,000 yuan (about $3,000) up front for transportation and various fees and after they had arrived Japan, the living and working conditions promised were even more appalling.

Crothall said one of the workers the group interviewed ‘‘was promised a very comfortable dormitory with tatami mats with TV and refrigerator. What he found was a shed at the back of the boss’s house where he kept the dog.’‘

The Chinese workers were fed food good for ‘‘pigs and chickens,’’ while excessive overtime at work was the norm. All aspects of employment regulations, from overtime compensations to rest and sick leave days to minimum pay, were broken. About 30 workers died last year of suspected overwork in Japan, Crothall said.

The Japanese government started a reform on the Technical Intern Training Program in mid-2010, but Crothall said there is no real evidence that the situation is improving because ‘‘basically what the Japanese employers want is cheap labor.’‘

The group is calling China and Japan to sign and ratify three major international conventions related to migrant labor so as to treat them similarly to local workers. It also asks China to draft new laws and set up an organization to regulate the labor export market.

© 2011 Kyodo News. All rights reserved. No reproduction or republication without written permission.

DPA.14 June 2011
Hong Kong – Japan and China should improve conditions for migrant Chinese workers whose rights are frequently abused in low-paid factory jobs in Japan, a report said Tuesday.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers from China fled Japan in the aftermath of the March earthquake and many have not returned, the report by a Hong Kong-based labour pressure group found.

The report by the nongovernmental organization China Labour Bulletin warned the exodus might continue unless both countries tackle widespread abuses.

More than 100,000 unskilled Chinese workers have jobs as so-called ‘trainees’ in small factories across Japan, signing up for three-year postings which should pay up to around 10,000 US dollars a year.

The workers are classed as trainees under a system introduced in the 1980s to allow Japan to import low-cost, unskilled workers as long as they were technically classed as trainees not employees.

The 50-page China Labour Bulletin report titled Throwaway Labour: The exploitation of Chinese trainees in Japan claimed that widespread abuse of Chinese workers’ rights, particularly in garment and food factories.

Laws to protect workers were ‘all too frequently ignored’ and trainees’ rights ‘routinely violated,’ it said, saying workers were exploited by both Chinese agencies and employers in Japan.

Workers were charged excessive fees and deductions by placement companies in China then made to live in shoddy conditions, sometimes in store rooms, and fed substandard food by employers in Japan.

Many migrant workers complained their passports were taken from them and their freedom of movement was restricted while employers forced them to do hard labour or excessive unpaid overtime.

Employers are often small family businesses in rural areas, leaving trainees ‘effectively cut off from society,’ the report said.

The report cites a 2008 case when Chinese trainee Jiang Xiaodong, 31, died of heart failure at an electroplating factory in Itako.

He worked up to 180 hours overtime a month, his family claimed, and was paid the equivalent of less than 4 US dollars an hour. His workload was not unusual for a trainee, the report said.

The trainee system was ‘little more than a conveyor belt supplying cheap and temporary Chinese labour to Japan,’ the report said arguing both countries should do more to protect workers.

AFP. 14 June 2011
HONG KONG - A LABOUR rights group on Tuesday urged Beijing and Tokyo to probe the conditions faced by overseas Chinese workers in Japan under a recruitment system that it criticised for stoking exploitation.

Japan claims the biggest international market for Chinese workers, with total 2009 labour exports to Japan valued at US$1.59 billion (S$2 billion), said the report by Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, citing official figures.

An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 foreign workers were recruited under Japan's 'trainee system' in 2011, which allowed them to be employed for three years in Japan, it said. About 68 per cent are Chinese.

'Japan's trainee system is in effect little more than a conveyor belt supplying cheap and temporary Chinese labour to Japan,' the group said in a 53-page report released on Tuesday.

'Chinese trainees earn far less than their Japanese counterparts, they work excessively long hours and are employed in the dirty, demanding and dangerous '3K' industries Japanese workers shun,' the report said.

The 3K refers to kitsui (demanding), kitanai (dirty), and kiken (dangerous), crossing a wide swathe of industries including work in the agricultural and textile sectors. -- AFP

Global Post:
Kathleen McLaughlin
14 June 2011

Tens of thousands of Chinese workers in Japan are treated unfairly and only employment brokers and companies benefit by training programs to bring them there, a new report charged Tuesday.

In a report called "Throwaway Labour: The Exploitation of Chinese Trainees in Japan," the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin said Chinese workers on "trainee" programs in Japan rarely see benefit from migratory work and are often overworked and underpaid.

"Trainees have to pay excessive fees and commissions just to get the job and, once in Japan, they are often forced to work long hours for low pay in frequently hazardous conditions. Their freedom of movement and association are severely constrained and the accommodation and food provided by their employer is often substandard," the group says. "Many have their wages deducted at source and kept in a bank account controlled by their employer. Moreover, trainees are often forced to lie to Japanese labour inspectors about their wage levels and working conditions. Chinese trainees in Japan usually put up with such conditions because they risk retaliation from their employer and their placement company if they file a complaint."

The CLB urged Japan to reform its Chinese worker training program.

In These Times
Michelle Chen
23 June 2011

They're not what usually comes to mind when we hear the term “Chinese exports,” but around the world, and especially in Asia, a major commodity that China sends overseas is its own citizens.

Parsing a classic, but often overlooked, example of transient labor migration, an investigation by the Hong-Kong based labor advocacy group "China Labour Bulletin" examines China's biggest “market” for exported labor—its rich, but labor-starved, neighbor Japan.

Similar to "guest worker" programs in the U.S., Japan uses a “trainee” system (another euphamism indicating temporariness) to bring in cheap manpower.

Since the 1980s, Japan’s manufactures have found it increasingly difficult to recruit workers locally, particularly for low-paid, labour-intensive jobs in the so-called 3K; kitsui (demanding), kitanai (dirty), and kiken (dangerous) industries. At the same time, China’s economic reforms created a huge labour surplus in that country, which had to find employment somewhere.

The foreign trainee population has been estimated at about 200,000, and historically some two-thirds coming from China, according to CLB's report (which follows a report on Chinese migrants in Singapore). The workforce may have dropped significantly since March, as migrants quickly left the country following the earthquake and tsunami.

Under the training scheme, workers are recruited through China-based employment agencies and arrange to work for certain employers as “trainees” for about three years. But once they get there, CLB found, many end up with a raw deal:

They are routinely exploited by both the Chinese company that places them overseas and the Japanese firm they end up working for. They have to pay excessive fees and commissions just to get the job and, once in Japan, are often forced to work long hours for low pay in frequently hazardous conditions. Their freedom of movement and association are severely constrained and the accommodation and food provided by their employer is often substandard.

It's an old immigration story wrapped in the glossy shell of Japan's hyper-modern economy. The devastation of the earthquake has created even more economic uncertainty on both sides of the labor chain. CLB Communications Director Geoffrey Crothall told In These Times:

up to 100,000 trainees left Japan in the wake of the March 11 disaster and threat from Fukushima. As a result, many Japanese industries are now facing a severe labour shortage, particularly the sewing industry which lost 30,000 of the 40,000 trainees employed in Japan.

The shock to the low-wage labor market may grow more acute in the coming months as the rebuilding effort ramps up, which may in turn exacerbate a deep lack of oversight and enforcement.

These migrants, often young and desperate for decent work, are funneled through a vast network of hundreds of placement agencies tied to sectors like “agriculture, fisheries, construction, food processing, textiles, and machinery and metal processing.” Many more “unlicensed” agencies peddle foreign labor underground. Under mounting pressure to stop the exploitation of Chinese migrants, the Japanese government has in recent reformed its regulation of employers and trainees. But as with most labor-import systems that treat workers as interchangeable drones, abuses still abound.

Despite Japan's higher level of development, workers interviewed by CLB revealed that trainees are often warehoused under harsh conditions, without adequate language or skills training:

Most of the “skills training” period was, in fact, spent providing free labour to the placement company. Moreover, Ms Z and Ms Zh actually paid the company 200 yuan a month in living expenses at this time. Ms Z described how the sewing work they had to do at this time was of no value at all in terms of training:

“Actually, we had been working in factories doing sewing work for many years already. There was no need for us to practice at all, so it seemed like the company was just using us as unpaid labour.”

Whether the mistreatment is a matter of incompetence or malice, the system basically tracks workers into temporary jobs that offer little hope of permanent settlement and fall short or the promises of prosperity touted by recruiters. Moreover, the surveyed trainees had little recourse in the case of a dispute with their boss. Lacking support from the Chinese state labor union, CLB reports, “None of the trainees had access to legal advice or any other way of checking the legality of their contracts.”

While employer violations involve the typical cheating on wages and overtime, a 2007 government audit found that 115 of 449 employers flagged for misconduct had deceived workers about their placements. Some of the most harrowing cases involve the exploitation of vulnerable women:

Six female trainees from Hubei who were supposed to study the sewing of women’s and children’s clothing in Japan, were assigned by their Japanese employer to a laundry company washing overalls and gloves from electronics, pharmaceutical and chemical companies. All of them contracted either athlete’s foot, nail fungus or chemical skin burns after being exposed to toxins over a long period of time. Another female trainee, who went to Japan in 2004, ended up cleaning and shining shoes at
the home of the company chairman.

The CLB report concludes, “Japan’s trainee system is, in effect, little more than a conveyor belt supplying cheap and temporary Chinese labor to Japan,” and that the recent wave of disaster may force a rethinking of this inherently unstable workforce program.

As Japan recovers, it will have to confront the question of the kind of society it wants to rebuild: one that fuels a high-tech economy with regressive labor policies, or one that upholds firm standards and rule of law for all, even its most excluded workers?
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